How the Occupy Movement Changed Urban Government
Kenneth A. Stahl, The Atlantic Cities
As the dust settles on the closure of some of the major “Occupy” encampments, the question of legacy remains.
At its core, Occupy Wall Street was a place-based movement. In commandeering urban public spaces as sites of protest, the movement marked an implicit challenge to the reigning model of urban governance in which place is irrelevant.
For decades, city officials and urban thinkers alike have been convinced that cities are beholden to the whims of mobile consumers and capital investors, who are indifferent to the virtues of any particular place and will simply locate wherever they are offered the most handsome package of amenities. Cities across the globe have viewed themselves as locked in a zero-sum competition in which the winners will be those who enact the most business and consumer-friendly policies – anything from tax breaks to zoning incentives to privatization of city services.
The Occupy movement challenged cities’ attachment to mobile capital by making place central to its worldview. In establishing flimsy tent-cities in actual urban spaces and refusing to leave, the Occupy protests mocked the idea of mobility peddled by urban officials. More than that, they implicitly advocated the notion that urban areas are places bound up with the identity of local communities, rather than disposable products in a global marketplace.
To illustrate, contrast the Occupy movement’s commitment to particular public spaces with urban officials’ treatment of those same spaces. After years of losing business to outlying suburban shopping malls, city officials have lured middle-class shoppers back to urban downtowns with the promise of an excitement and vitality absent in the cloistered suburbs. At the same time, city officials have been keenly aware that the openness and spontaneity that make downtown spaces attractive also invite unpleasant encounters with panhandlers or the mentally ill.
(6 February 2012)
Tweetin’ ’Bout a Revolution
Paul Mason, Red pepper
Newsnight’s Paul Mason, author of a new book on the revolts sweeping the world, speaks to Red Pepper
Hilary Wainwright (Red Pepper): You highlight the commonalities of the different revolts of 2011, but how do we understand the differences between revolts against authoritarian regimes and exhausted democracies? Is there a problem with this generality?
Paul Mason: I’m looking for what’s common rather than making generalities. First of all, one revolt feeds off another, and you can’t underestimate the physical link: again and again, among people who were involved in March 26 in the UK, J14 in Israel, Wisconsin, you meet people who had been to Tahrir.
Spain isn’t Greece, and Tahrir and Tunis are very different. But there is the archetype of the educated youth whose life chances have been blighted by a combination of economic downturn and a regime they realise is unsustainable.
… Paul: The power of the horizontalist movements is, first, their replicability by people who know nothing about theory, and secondly, their success in breaking down the hierarchies that seek to contain them. They are exposed to a montage of ideas, in a way that the structured, difficult-to-conquer knowledge of the 1970s and 1980s did not allow. We’re talking about different human beings; they have different ways of thinking.
… But the protest movement isn’t immune from ideological disorientation. In Britain many of these people flip from being Lib Dems to class-struggle anarchists within weeks. In acute crises, you tend to get severe psychological flips in the population. We’ve had a big flip towards horizontalist leftism among the young generation, and its not impossible that it could flip in another direction.
… Paul: The big question for horizontalist movements is that as long as you don’t articulate against power, you’re basically doing what somebody has called ‘reform by a riot’: a guy in a hoodie goes to jail for a year so that a guy in a suit can get his law through parliament.
After a while in the 19th century workers saw there were other ways: form your own party and stand in elections, with all the difficulties that has, or your own newspaper, and basically join the grown-up world of taking responsibility for stuff. I think a lot of people in the horizontalist movement are at the point of considering this, but are hesitant.
… the noticeable thing about modern politics is the disconnect between the elite and the masses. The masses are much more homogeneous: the way a young slum dweller in London lives, and the way a student lives, and the way a young professional lives, are not that different. They share a common culture in Twitter and Blackberries.
By contrast the elite are building themselves into a kind of walled turret – that’s dangerous for democracy, and it’s dangerous for them.
Paul Mason’s new book, Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: the new global revolutions, is available now, published by Verso
(7 February 2012)
Also at ZNet.
The Downward Mobility of the American Middle Class, and Why Mitt Romney Doesn’t Know
January’s increase in hiring is good news, but it masks a bigger and more disturbing story – the continuing downward mobility of the American middle class.
Most of the new jobs being created are in the lower-wage sectors of the economy – hospital orderlies and nursing aides, secretaries and temporary workers, retail and restaurant. Meanwhile, millions of Americans remain working only because they’ve agreed to cuts in wages and benefits. Others are settling for jobs that pay less than the jobs they’ve lost. Entry-level manufacturing jobs are paying half what entry-level manufacturing jobs paid six years ago.
Other people are falling out of the middle class because they’ve lost their jobs, and many have also lost their homes. Almost one in three families with a mortgage is now underwater, holding their breath against imminent foreclosure.
The percent of Americans in poverty is its highest in two decades, and more of us are impoverished than at any time in the last fifty years.
(7 February 2012)
How a Tragic Soccer Riot May Have Revived the Egyptian Revolution
Dave Zirin, The Nation
There are no words for the horror that took place in Port Said, Egypt last week. A soccer match became a killing field, with at least seventy-four spectators dead, and as many as 1,000 injured. The visiting Al-Ahly team lost to Al-Masri, and what followed will stain the sport forever. Al-Masri fans rushed the field, attacking the Al-Ahly cheering section after Al-Masri’s 3-1 upset victory. People were stabbed and beaten, but the majority of deaths took place because of asphyxiation, as Al-Ahly fans were crushed against locked stadium doors. It was so unspeakably traumatic that beloved Al-Ahly star Mohamed Aboutreika, who famously revealed a “Sympathize with Gaza” shirt during the 2008 Israel bombardment, immediately announced his retirement after the match. A distraught Aboutreika said, “This is not football. This is a war and people are dying in front of us. There is no movement and no security and no ambulances. I call for the league to be canceled. This is a horrible situation, and today can never be forgotten.”
This carnage, however, has produced profoundly unexpected results. The shock of Port Said hasn’t produced a political coma but instead acted as a defibrillator, bringing a revolutionary impatience back to life. Instead of starting a wave of concern that “lawlessness” was spreading in post-revolutionary Egypt, the anger and sadness seem to be reviving the revolution.
… Other Western observers, sympathetic to the revolution, feared with good cause that the riots would strengthen the hand of a military dictatorship slow to transfer power to civilian rule. But on the ground, a new reality quickly took shape. This might be news to the Times, but the reaction in Egypt has been rage at the military, fueled by a widespread belief that, either through benign neglect or malignant intent, the authorities let the killings happen.
The witness reports of the Port Said survivors are scandalous. They describe a situation where exits were blocked by military police. The stadium lights were turned off, adding to the sense of panic. Hundreds of riot police can be clearly seen in amateur videos, standing around and doing nothing, as if ordered to remain passive.
Every political sector has spoken out against the military police in Port Said.
(7 February 2012)
Chris Hedges and the black bloc
Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist
Yesterday Chris Hedges wrote an attack on the black bloc on Truthdig.com that has gone “viral” in the sense that the Internet is all abuzz about it. Considering the sickness metaphor, the appropriately titled article “The Cancer in Occupy” begins:
The Black Bloc anarchists, who have been active on the streets in Oakland and other cities, are the cancer of the Occupy movement. The presence of Black Bloc anarchists—so named because they dress in black, obscure their faces, move as a unified mass, seek physical confrontations with police and destroy property—is a gift from heaven to the security and surveillance state.
As most people realize, the people that Hedges is writing about are not really interested in defending themselves politically. From its inception back in the European autonomist movements of the 1980s, the black-clad activists refuse to answer anybody outside of their ranks. Within the “affinity group”, everything is cool. Outside of it, who gives a shit? Ironically, this kind of elitism is not that different from the “vanguard party” posture which puts the needs of the sect above that of the mass movement.
The European black bloc “autonomy” literally meant that they were not accountable to the rest of the left, particularly the traditional socialist parties and the trade unions that were viewed as the enemy …
… Perhaps the best part of Hedges’s article is the words of Derrick Jensen, who told him:
Their thinking is not only nonstrategic, but actively opposed to strategy. They are unwilling to think critically about whether one is acting appropriately in the moment. I have no problem with someone violating boundaries [when] that violation is the smart, appropriate thing to do. I have a huge problem with people violating boundaries for the sake of violating boundaries. It is a lot easier to pick up a rock and throw it through the nearest window than it is to organize, or at least figure out which window you should throw a rock through if you are going to throw a rock. A lot of it is laziness.
(7 February 2012)
As the name of his blog indicates, Louis Proyect is a crusty old Marxist. He also runs the lively Marxmail and writes regular movie reviews. He’s one of the most readable Marxists writing today. -BA